Fattoush Salad with Za’atar

If a salad you were to punch you in the face with freshness, it would undoubtedly be Fattoush.

What does that even mean? I don’t know really, it’s just the most visceral explanation I got for something so ridiculously refreshing that it feels like your insides just took a shower in barely-melted icebergs.
In my opinion, this is “the” summer salad. Showcasing the season’s best produce, its high-water-content veggies get their cool on, while the herbs brighten things up with breezy greenness. Top it all off with a magical sprinkling of za’atar and you got yourself one crazy-clean flavoured dish that puts your taste buds on the next train to fresh town.

Although it is a well-known Lebanese dish, I actually ate my first plate of this tasty delight in Los Angeles, of all places. My friends and I often patronized our off-the-cool-map restaurant in a strip mall because the food was really, really delicious (but also because we could all find something on the menu to suit us – not always the easiest thing!). The fattoush salad serendipitously arrived at our table one day (I can’t even remember ordering it) and lo and behold, I got a taste of the light. What is this incredible stuff?! So lemon-y. So herbalicious. So clean and cool and collectively crisp! And sprinkled with some very tangy red stuff that I later learned was sumac – pure love I tells ya. The whole thing is a plate of genius.

Fattoush salad typically combines summer veggies, a whack-load of fresh herbs, fried pita bread, and za’atar – a sesame and sumac-based topping that gives fattoush its distinctive zingy flavour. As a dish it is totally fresh and satisfying, perfect for a light, summer afternoon lunch, but can easily be made into a meal with the addition of chickpeas or beans, and maybe a few olives thrown in for good measure. I would liken fattoush to Greek salad, but the thing that really sets it apart is the za’atar – almost like a magical genie-in-a-bottle!

Za’atar – Flavour Genie in a Bottle!
For some reason, all I can think about when I hear the word Za’atar is the rapping genie Shaquille O’Neil played in the film Kazaam (I never saw this movie, I promise). But not unlike Shaq, this genie totally brings the flavour, minus the bad rhymes.

Za’atar is based on sumac (rhus coriaria), a spice that comes from the berries of a wild bush, which grows in the wilds of Mediterranean, especially in regions like southern Italy, Sicily and parts of the Middle East, notably in Iran. Sumac is an essential ingredient in Arabic cooking, as preferred to lemon for sourness and astringency. Not to be confused with its relative poison ivy (rhus toxicondendron) this variety is non-poisonous and has a dark red burgundy color. When the berry is dried and ground to powder, it has a nutty texture and a tart, sour lemon-y taste. This is how you will see it in stores, in its ground form with a deep reddish brown colour.
You can purchase sumac at most ethnic grocers and spice shops.

Aside from just being a tasty treat, sumac has many delightful health benefits. For example, the deep pigments found in the berries are due to the high concentration of anthocyanins, those are the very special compounds, which exhibit antioxidant action. Anthocyanins help to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer. They may also aid in the prevention of macular degeneration by protecting the eyes from free radical damage, increasing circulation and stabilizing collagen structures (which hold tissues together). You can also find anthocyanins in foods such as blackberries, blueberries, black rice, grapes, and açaí.
Sumac herb can also help in the treatment of common digestive disorders, including stomach upset, acid reflux, constipation, feverish symptoms, and irregular bowel movements. It is believed to contain both antimicrobial and antioxidant effects.

As I mentioned earlier, fattoush typically includes a generous topping of deep-fried pita bread, of which I will pass, thanks. My version uses raw flax crackers simply crumbled up to add some crunch and texture. This gets the job done, and in a far healthier way. You could also use whole grain flatbread or crackers, or simply toast up a pita and skip the oxidized fats. Yay!
Also important to note – the herbs in this salad are not simply a garnish. As you can see from the amounts I’ve called for, they are in fact an integral ingredient to the traditional fattoush. Think of the herbs as you would lettuce, and remember that they too boost this salad’s nutrition profile, big time.

Fattoush Salad
Ingredients:
2 medium cucumbers, with skin
3 cups chopped tomatoes (I used a combination of cherry, plum, and grape tomatoes)
2 red bell peppers
1 large red onion
3 green onions
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¾ cup chopped mint
raw flax crackers, flatbread, or toasted pita

Directions:
1. Wash, prepare, and chop all veggies into bite-sized pieces. Wash, spin-dry herbs and chop. Place in a large bowl.
2. Pour dressing over salad, stir, and let stand for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to allow the flavours to meld.
3. Right before serving, sprinkle generously with za’atar, crumble raw flax crackers and fold into salad. Enjoy.

Fattoush Salad Dressing
Ingredients:
¼ cup extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon (organic, un-waxed if possible!)
1 tsp. raw liquid honey or maple syrup
2 – 4 cloves garlic, minced
a couple pinches of sea salt
a pinch of black pepper

Directions:
1. Put all ingredients in a jar with a light-fitting lid and shake.

Za’atar
You can make a raw version of this amazing topping by using raw sesame seeds. But to really bring out the awesome nutty flavour in these little guys, lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they start to pop. Remove from heat and let cool.

Ingredients:
¼ cup sesame seeds (raw or toasted)
¼ cup sumac
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
(This is a good “starter amount”, but feel free to double, triple, quadruple the recipe if you want more za’atar!)

Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
2. Funnel into a glass jar and store in a cool, dark place.

After making my own za’atar, I’ve come to regard it as a real flavour booster for just about any dish! My favorite so far is sprinkling it on an avocado sandwich, but it’s also lovely with eggs, dashed on hummus, steamed brown rice with veggies, even on a savory breakfast porridge – I kid you not.
Throw it on your next meal and see how za’atar wakes it up! Kazaam!

Copyright 2012 My New Roots at mynewroots.blogspot.com

52 comments

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  5. Michele

    You probably could have saved yourself some controversy by mentioning that both fattoush and zaatar vary quite a bit country to country (and sometimes town to town), like so many emblematic foods of the Middle East (try defining the authentic falafel!). Or emblematic foods of any region or culture — think ragu Bolgnese or maztoh ball soup…. As for your recipe, the distinction of fattoush from other bread salads, i.e. panzanella, is the use of pita, the regional bread — the genesis of this type of salad is as a vehicle for stale bread. I have never even considered deep-frying, although I have often seen it panfried in olive oil — I just brush the pita with garlic oil or butter and toast it in the oven or on the grill. Sprinkle the bread with a little zaatar for added oomph! A quick cheat would be to buy those pita chips, which are also baked.

  6. Val

    Just discovered your blog! You are very kind to post such wonderful recipes! I have one quick question…how do you pronounce ‘Za’atar’? I will be making some in the near future and I have the feeling my friends and family will be asking what that wonderful flavor is on the Fattoush Salad recipe. Thanks for a terrific site! :)

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  8. Bikini

    Congratulations for this beautiful recipe. Looking for Za’ atar for a long time now…and I have at last succeed in finding some ! Il love this salad and I ‘m going taste it as soon as possible

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  10. pam

    thanks for your recipe, I love the dressing! I mixed this recipe up a bit adding torn spinach and I fried my pita bread since I had hot oil at the ready from my fried eggplant. I served it with a Lebanese mezze, worked out lovely. your photos are beautiful!

  11. Mariam

    Oh and I never knew sumac had such amazing health benefits! I eat it on everything (and literally my the spoonful)vso at least now I now it’s doing me so much good! :D

  12. Mariam

    I loovve fattoush! But my middle-eastern background make me somewhat an expert in what should and shouldn’t be included to be considered fattoush, i’ve never heard of zaa’tar being included in the mix, though some people I know use sumac. My my always uses pomegranate molasses which is oh so yummy and definitely my preferance, though yours looks de-lish! We usually skimp on the fried bread at home as well and just toast some Lebanese bread!

  13. Bianca

    love this salad!! and the whole blog of course… but about the zaatar, i had to say something. i´m Israeli (living in Brazil at the moment), and in Israel not only do we eat a looot of za´atar we also have it in the wild. i agree sumac is an important part of making the condiment, but it´s real base is a herb, very similer to oragano in form, but different in taste. in hebrew and arab we call it za´atar, and the mixed spice has the same name. that is probebly why there is a difference when tasting it in other places in the world.

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  15. Calvin Brock

    Sumac herb can also help in the treatment of common digestive disorders, including stomach upset, acid reflux, constipation, feverish symptoms, and irregular bowel movements. It is believed to contain both antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. moving to london

  16. Kit

    will you please, please tell me where this delicious menu can be obtained in los angeles? i thought i knew all of the good places–even the hole-in-the-walls and the strip mall locales–but i have yet to come across za’atar salads anywhere. the mystery is driving me nuts.

    my family’s lebanese so za’atar tasted like home, and i miss those flavors like crazy!

  17. Annette

    Nom! I think I’m addicted! Made it once – loved it. Served to company – loved it again. Which is good, because I made too much and now I have the leftovers to enjoy :) Although with company I served it exactly as suggested with Italian flax crackers crumbled in, tonight I enjoyed the salad with a lemon tahini sauce, some soft tofu for protein and a healthy dose of za’atar. Yum! Thank you! This will definitely be a staple as we enter the summer months here in Australia :)

  18. Kellis

    I received LOTS of compliments after serving this on Friday night. Thanks for another healthy, winner of a recipe!

  19. Pocak Panna

    I love this post! So much usable information! BTW I love ur whole blog! I am counting down to make ur cheescake (just gotta find time for it)! Love the photos as well!

  20. Lynna

    That first picture makes me want to jump through the computer and have a bite. This looks so deliciously fresh! I always love your recipes and photos.

  21. SAMIMI-EXTREMIE

    i made this tonight! fatoush salad is one of my faves. my parents live in israel, and its one of the first things i want once i arrive! try it with shredded bulgarian cheese [not too much] and it is soooo good that way too. thanks for the recipe, it was a big hit. i love your blog. thanks for the service you provide!

  22. Mély du Chaudron Pastel

    I ate a lot of Za’atar when I lived in Saudi Arabia (I lived there for 7 years, when I was small, my parents & I were expatriats).

    Lebanon people usually use it in pita bread, as you mentionned.

    It’s so yummy !

  23. the good soup

    Wow, imagine being able to forage your own sumac! I’ve long made a tabbouleh salad with fresh pomegranate seeds instead of tomato.I think they’d be great in this fattoush too, particularly with the molasses.

  24. S Bell

    Hi Sarah,
    There is so much beautiful staghorn sumac around our place in the country near Collingwood, and I am tempted to branch out from sumac “lemonade” to try making za’atar. I’ve read that the middle east sumac is far superior in taste, but foragers can’t be choosers. I figure you can grind anything in a vitamix. I’ll let you know how it turns out (when it comes into season this fall). Thanks for the awesome salad inspiration!

  25. Kristin (Cook Bake Nibble)

    I love fattoush- I’mm middle eastern so it was something we had a lot at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up! I also love the flavour of za’atar but I’ve never tried making it myself! I think now I really should!

    xo

  26. Sarah B

    Hey Friends!
    Wow ~ what a response!
    Glad you’re all diggin’ this. It is so easy and tasty and bright and will make your heart sing with summer.

    To Gabrielle: Um, pomegranate molasses? That sounds in.cre.di.ble. I have actually been looking forward to making muhammara sometime this summer and I will certainly need some for that recipe. Great suggestion, thanks!

    To Emily Lou: Start here! Get the recipes and ideas you need for making some changes in your diet. Start small and work your way up. Yes, I do eat whole foods all day every day. I have no appetite for anything less :)

    Love to you all,
    Sarah B

  27. Emily Lou

    reading your blog makes me want to eat all natural all the time! you make it look so easy, but i honestly don’t know where to even start. do you eat non-processed foods for every meal?

  28. Anonymous

    I’m so glad you did a post on za’tar. I just received a bag of it for my birthday (best gift ever), but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. This salad looks amazing, and I plan on making it PRONTO. Thanks so much. I love your blog!

  29. Gabrielle

    What a beautiful recipe! Also, whenever I’ve eaten fattoush it’s always been sprinkled with pomegranate molasses, I suggest adding a few tablespoons of this delicious condiment for an extra tangy kick!

  30. Katherine

    Thank-you for sharing all this info and insight! Your blog is always so delightful to read through. This recipe looks great and the health benefits of the key ingredients sound even better (definitely looking forward to adding sumac to my diet).

    Curious to know if there is one book in particular that is your favorite reference, recipe and/or educational guide?

  31. 5thandwaverly

    What a lovely post! I love fattoush, and add za’tar to everything – from eggs to goat cheese to hummus. (My parents are from Beirut; that spice runs through my veins!). I just made tabouleh and za’tar-flecked hummus this weekend, so this post is timely. The photos are lovely and the salad looks delicious. Thank you!

    http://5thandwaverly.wordpress.com/

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